John & Wendy Universe
John and Wendy are an illustrator duo who recently released their delightful children’s book, Periwinkle Smith. Periwinkle Smith pirouettes and twirls until she spills a stubborn stain on her lovely tutu. John and Wendy also have illustrated the Katie Kazoo Switcheroo series by Nancy Krulik and their first board book, Mommy Loves Me. In addition to being dynamic illustrators, John and Wendy have worn many hats one of which happened to be a hat designer as well as the foundation for the band, Sugar Syndicate.
John and Wendy took the time to answer my questions, lend their advice and advocate against Muggle-ism.
1) How and when did you and Wendy first start working together?
W: I think you really have to go back to about a year after we met, when John started taking art classes at Wayne State University. We were living in Hamtramck, and since I didn’t have a job at the time, I used to take the bus with him into downtown Detroit and ended up going to most of his classes with him. (Strangely, none of his professors objected to me sitting in—although a few insisted that I participate in class discussions. The next year, John transferred to the University of Michigan School of Art in Ann Arbor, where my reception was just the same.) We started by working on photography projects together, but over time our collaborations have grown to include illustration, painting, hat and clothing design, and music (we play together in a band called Sugar Syndicate).
3) What are you reading now (or the last book that you read)?
W: It’s funny that you should ask, because yes, we do read books together. Right now we’re reading Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome aloud at home, and we just finished Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse (we like to read Wodehouse together on the subway, because the books are just too funny to keep to yourself).
4) Does Periwinkle Smith have any other adventures ahead of her?
W: Yes, we just turned in our first draft for a second Periwinkle Smith story. It’s called Periwinkle Smith and the Far Away Star, and is scheduled to come out next summer.
5) What advice to have for artists/illustrators just starting out?
W: Well, it almost goes without saying, but it’s important to draw a lot. Work on expressions, not only in faces, but in body language, too. Work on developing your own style and techniques. Look at lots of other artists. Look at kids drawings. Have fun.
If you are planning on working as an illustrator, think about what kind of stories you’d like to tell with your drawings. We’ve been doing kids book illustration since 2002, when we started illustrating the Katie Kazoo Swithcheroo series, but before that we spent many years mostly doing editorial illustration for magazines, so those illos were very specific, very short stories.
Put together a website (or join a group that allows you to put up a portfolio). It’s good to send out email announcements, but you should also get a promo card printed which directs people to you and your site—if they like it, Art Directors will stick your card up on their wall. They might not have a job for you right away, and they are much more likely to call you if they have something tangible to remind them of your work rather than an email. Also, ADs will take their favorite cards with them if they change jobs. We get postcard from Modern Postcard (http://www.modernpostcard.com/) or 4by6 (http://www.4by6.com/); both print full color on both sides, do very good, quick work, print small quantities and various sizes.
If you get an assignment, be professional: get your sketches and artwork in on time, respond promptly to requests, and be polite. Seems simple, but it’s always appreciated by Art Directors. And don’t be shy: it’s perfectly proper to ask your AD if they could recommend other art directors and designer that might like your work.
One last thing: we always retain copyright to our work, and only sell reproduction rights.
J: I’m not qualified to give advice on this, but my thoughts at the moment are: Personal relationships andintroductions and recommendations are pretty important, I think. Be ambitious and find ambitious friends who are artists. Trust yourself and your instincts, and aim high. I may be wrong but it seems to me that the word art gets way more respect than the word illustration. Don’t be a Muggle, if you can help it. People like magic.